ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Police are investigating how a person was able to steal utility services, then send the bill to an unsuspecting resident in Kirkwood.
The victim took a call about an unpaid $800 Charter bill for service to an address in Hanley Hills. The problem is, the victim never lived in Hanley Hills.
It turns out someone set up the service in their name and ran up charges.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that utilities and phone fraud made up about 13 percent of all identify theft complaints in 2011. Compare that to credit card fraud, which is more commonly known. It makes up about 14 percent of complaints.
U.S. Postal Inspector Dan Taylor says these types of fraud cases are not unusual. Many, he says, are perpetrated by family members who are using a relatives name to open new accounts or keep services connected. Some of these cases are committed by strangers who stay on the move.
“It takes time, especially with some of the more savvy scammers, to figure out how to keep the account going for a few months. And by the time that law enforcement has been tipped off, they’ve moved onto a new address,” said Taylor.
And by the time a debt collector tracks the victim down, it may be too late to prosecute.
“If the fraud is over $500, the statute of limitations is three years. If it’s under $500, it’s one year,” said Jack Huelsmann, coordinator of the Fraud Prevention Task Force in the St Louis City Circuit Attorney’s Office. “But in all these cases, the debt collectors are calling well after the fact.”
Victims should call police, document everything, and report the fraud to the utility company, said Huelsmann.
Chicago Police arrested two women in an extreme case of utility fraud in 2010. Two women were accused of stealing identifies of senior citizens and setting up fake accounts for people who didn’t have the credit to open their own.
In Kirkwood, police have sent subpoenas to Charter to learn more about who opened the account in Hanley Hills.
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